Contributor: Darren Comber, University of Aberdeen,

Ingredients (any equipment or supplies needed for the activity): Set aside at least 30 minutes for this exercise. You’ll need a watch. It also helps if the room you’re using has moveable seating although it’s not absolutely essential.  This is a noisy activity so be aware of those around you if you attempt this.

Method (what you do):

  1. Get your participants into pairs. Brief them that for this exercise one of them will be the ‘teacher’ and the other, the ‘learner’. Don’t tell them any more than this until they’re paired off.
  2. Unveil your instructions (if on a slide, keep them hidden to maintain an element of surprise). “ In two minutes, your teacher will now ‘teach’ you how to EITHER:
    1. Parallel park a car, or
    2. Fry an egg.”
  3. Allow them to choose which one they want to do whilst waiting for the laughter to die down.
  4. Set them off, letting them know that you are timing them and that they have precisely two minutes to achieve this task.
  5. After two minutes get them to swap roles. It’s up to them if they want to swap topics as well.  It doesn’t actually matter.  The room can be quite noisy at this point; be prepared for this.
  6. After all participants have taken a turn at being the ‘teacher’ and the ‘learner’, restore order and call attention back to you.
  7. The tutor-led debrief that follows is the crux of this exercise. Find out through a show of hands who ‘taught’ the parallel parking topic.  Select one ‘teacher’ and ask them to start running through, out loud, how they went about teaching it.  The key here is for you, as tutor, to take a super-critical approach to questioning every aspect of BOTH the subject matter AND the approach taken. Tell them that you’re going to do this – you’re not there to make them look foolish, merely to play Devil’s Advocate.

This typically goes something like this:

  1. (Teacher) So you get in the car and start it up. (You): Did you check that your learner knows how to drive?
  2. (Teacher): OK, having established that they can drive, start the car, put it in gear and drive to the parking space. (You). How do you put it in gear? Is it a manual or an automatic?
  3. This goes on, through into the detailed mechanics of parking the car– don’t overdo it though– so that everyone gets the point that it is easy to make assumptions about our learners’ prior knowledge before we teach them. Generalise at this point; ask them if they have been on the receiving end of such assumptions in their past and how that felt.
  4. Also question the approach to teaching. Some teachers just talk their learner through it, others draw diagrams, some have gone as far as moving chairs and parallel parking other chairs between those.  This is a great opportunity to discuss teaching approaches and also to surface / quash the myth of learning styles.
  5. Now pick a second ‘teacher’ and do the same critical questioning over the topic of frying an egg. What do you cook it in?  What utensils do you need? Cook it in oil – what sort of oil?  How hot does the oil have to be before putting the egg in the pan (does the oil shimmer / do you use a thermometer / how do you know?). Break the egg into a cup first or break in into the pan?  How to cook it?  What is ‘sunny side up’ and ‘easy over’?  When is it cooked? Again you can work off the participants in the room to help pull out differences and assumptions here.
  6. To wrap up, ask the ‘learners’ to feed back to the ‘teachers’ what they found helpful and what they didn’t find so helpful about what they did.

Special Notes

In addition to assumptions about knowledge and approaches to teaching, this is also a useful exercise to approach issues around cultural assumptions that are made when we teach.  Even seemingly mundane statements about seemingly everyday activities can be unpicked if you wish.  I have had fun in the past with the parking exercise (assumptions about which side of the road to drive on) and the egg exercise (is it a frying pan or a skillet?).

Acknowledgements.  I’ve used this for years, initial inspiration came from discussions and trialing the method with a former colleague, Dr Steve Brindle.

References: I’ve not seen any but happy to stand corrected if colleagues know of any.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

More Main Courses

Cookbook Homepage